John Houseman can deliver one hell of a spooky story. Though he is in JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG for only a few short moments, his regal delivery that introduces the events that we are about to witness is classically spooky. If you want to scare the hell out of your friends around the fire, book Houseman, it will have an extra dose of creepy since he has been dead for about 25 years. If you can pull that trick off you will create a memorable moment that the kids will talk about for years. THE FOG is a throwback film that would be at home in classic horror of days long since passed. The trick of the film is that it is a campfire story, the type of tale you would spin on a dark and cold night as the fire snaps and creatures play across the dark landscape. Carpenter may have issues with the film, but like all stories that manage to send a chill up your spine, this one deserves to be told again.
Antonio Bay is getting ready to celebrate its centennial but a wicked group of dead sailors have different plans. Once the clock hits midnight things start to go south and the crew of the Elizabeth Dane, still holding a grudge against the founders of the town for sinking their ship, begin to unleash terror on the town. Eventually the haunting makes its way to the local radio station where late-night disc jockey Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) sees the words “6 must die” appear on a piece of driftwood. With options of running the hell away or just waiting it out, the residents of Antonio Bay choose the latter and while Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) and Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) play sleuth, the bodies start to pile up. Arriving through a creeping fog shot with an intense blue light that seems to pay homage to Dario Argento, the dead crew of the Dane arrive to start the vengeance. With ghastly make-up effects from the legendary Rob Bottin, the ghosts/zombies lumber along with menacing purpose. The fog makes more appearances than the crew which only makes their onscreen time more effective.
Directing from his own script and again partnering with his HALLOWEEN producing partner Debra Hill, the task of taking on a follow-up to HALLOWEEN, a hugely successful and game changing horror film, must have felt immense. It would have been easy to simply repeat that formula, to go back to what’s familiar. Carpenter and Hill however were not content with playing it safe, they never did and they weren’t about to start now.
Shot for a reported $1 million dollars and distributed as part of a two picture deal with AVCO-Embassy (who would also distribute ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), this film was completely re-created during post-production. Not happy with how the film worked (Carpenter thought it was too flat to be effective) and with only three months until release, he went back to AVCO-Embassy to deliver the news and was given the green light to re-edit the film. He ended up cutting up to 30%, shooting additional scenes, creating a new character, and generally adding more eeriness to a film that previously felt flat. We’ll never know what that original film looked like, but what we have in THE FOG is a film that in fact moves at a quick pace and manages to build the tension throughout the picture. The titular fog may not be the epic villain that we saw in Carpenter’s previous film, but it didn’t need to be.
HALLOWEEN gave the audience a visceral nightmare courtesy of long takes and the subtle presence of evil that eventually erupts in violence. It was a new kind of terror, something we hadn’t seen before. THE FOG is about paying it back to the history of horror, it’s almost like THE THING in that regard. Both films are tributes to the classic films that came before them. It’s not impossible to see Val Lewton producing a film like this with someone like Robert Wise in the director’s chair. Lewton was always very literary minded, his films seemed just as at home on screen as they would in a book and THE FOG carries that same feel.
Directors these days tend to drag their film through the mud in order to get a vintage look. They scratch their film to shit just to give it some grindhouse atmosphere. I shake my head whenever I see this. Stop. Take a look at THE FOG; the only thing you need to do is create the right atmosphere through the story and location to naturally take the viewer to where you want them to be. And if possible, resurrect John Houseman to deliver the opening intro.
Looks fucking amazing. Feel free to use your old DVD of the film as a coaster because this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is the balls.
It’s good, just not great.
Another reason to toss the DVD, all the features of that ol’MGM release are here, they just look and sound better now. Also some new features worth digging into.
Audio Commentary by John Carpenter and producer/co-writer Debra Hill. A really informative track and well worth a listen. They drop a lot of technical details, this is the kind of track I would eat up if I was a young filmmaker instead of a fat slob who is just content with watching films and shooting off my pie-hole. Mmmmm. Pie.
Audio Commentary Track 2: This is brand spanking new yakkity yak from Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, production designer Tommy Lee Wallace and moderated by Sean Clark of Horror Hound magazine (I would have done it but I wasn’t invited. Besides, I had other things to do, like bake a pie). Fun track, nothing terrible insightful but you know, fun.
My Time with Terror — An interview with Jamie Lee Curtis talking about her career and memories of the movie which she seems to think is just okay.
Dean of Darkness — An interview with cinematographer and frequent Carpenter collaborater Dean Cundey
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds — Sean Clark of Horror Hound magazine takes horror fans around Point Reyes where the film was shot.
Tales from the Mist — The original retrospective from the DVD showing various cast & crew interviews from the set and sometime after. Everyone involved provides excellent info about the story, its themes, its overall production, the look and feel of the film and its lasting legacy.
Fear On Film – Really cool roundtable discussion with of Carpenter, Hill, Curtis and Barbeau
Special Effects Tests
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